Should You Trust or Count on the Police Post SHTF?

It is easy to imagine a post-SHTF scenario entailing a mass of terrorized people fleeing the confines of city and society into the relatively untouched wilderness, turning existence into something between “The Call of the Wild” and “Lord of the Flies.” Man vs. Nature, with the occasional bad guy marauder or mugger to be dealt with.

The truth for many different circumstances will not be so bleakly rural or remote: many city dwellers and even those in smaller towns will find they can, even should endure a crisis in the comparative comfort of their own home in town. They will also find that, in all probability, the forces that make society “go” will not up and vanish: government agencies and law enforcement personnel will still have jobs to do and go right on a-doing them after the SHTF.

Sure, some will resign or desert to take care of their families, when necessary, but you can bet your bottom dollar that many, by oath or necessity, will still be putting in the overtime.

So now the question that is perennially on the minds of some preppers: should you rely on, even trust, law enforcement in a seriously society-altering event? Can you outsource your best interest to someone else, even our boys and girls in blue? We’ll be answering that question in today’s article.

On Policing in General

Before we answer our question in detail, context is needed. What is the true role of police? Protectors of the public, as the idealist says? Government goons, as claimed by the cynic? Something in between? The real answer is informative for our purposes.

A police force, whatever label or form it takes, is a body of personnel sanctioned and empowered by a state to enforce the law. It’s all in the name “law enforcement”, huh? Yes, but let us get down to the brass tacks of what that means. For you, and all of us, it means they will be enforcing the states interests and will as it pertains to a major disaster, civil disturbance, calamity or whatever.

I was poking at it in the preceding section: just because something blows up, blows away, flips over or burns down does not mean that, magically, state institutions dissolve. Far from it; they have a very vested interest, or duty if you are optimistic, of keeping the pieces in a tidy pile and getting them put back together. To do this, they need their agents and officers to carry out their bidding on the scene. That is the role the police will play after the SHTF in a big and spectacularly stinky way.

Police will be expected to prevent crime (including new, emergency declarations of unlawful activity), curb and prevent disorder, and physically protect vital state installations or operations. That is literally in the job description. If you think of a township or state as an organ, police serve as white blood cells, the ones physically interdicting the action of rogue cells and critters that threaten the health and integrity of the body.

Potential for Problems

This is not a knock against our brave cops at any level: most of them are genuinely decent people who want to make a positive difference in their communities. I count many of them as friends, and have worked closely with several of them throughout my life. I do not claim that any of them would see a severe crisis as some opportunity to go rogue or overstep their authority. I am further not saying that any of them would choose “the mission” over what their conscience would tell them regarding their actions after a major crisis.

I only bring it up to make the distinction that they are state employees, specifically the ones who mete out state sanctioned force and will be called to do so in any crisis. If the state’s applied solutions to the problem run counter to, or are even detrimental to your own interests, that is when you may have cause to worry.

This is not to suggest any sort of draconian or evil intent, only that police are human, as are the people that make up out governments and mistakes sometimes get made: errors of judgment, bad plans, or wrong solutions to problems can all turn into conflict of interest, and the wrong people wind up being affected by policies meant to help.

So what does this mean for you? Well, it depends. It might mean policies in place that police are expected to enforce for the public good and safety wind up hindering, even harming your efforts to survive and thrive. We’ll be exploring that concept in detail in the following sections.


The Long Arm of the Law and You

The potential for friction between you and law enforcement agents exists in any post-disaster scenario, but will be highest in a really serious, proper SHTF event, when destruction, death and chaos has set everyone’s nerves, cop and civilian alike, straight on end, and the possibility of harsh emergency procedures or even martial law is on the table.

You may find yourself needing to get in or out of an area that is closed to all traffic and human movement. Law enforcement officers may assist other agencies with security or manpower if the call comes to forcibly evacuate people from their homes or “collect” and “redistribute” resources.

Any dense crowd that is being overseen by law enforcement who are in a stress position can be risky. Stray bullets, mistaken identity and wholesale distribution of OC are just a few of the bad things that can happen to you when cops need to get rowdy with people. You may be heading to a staging point for supplies, water, treatment, whatever and wind up injured, even killed, over what is essentially bad luck.

This does not mean you should give cops a wide berth without reason, only that you need to be on your toes in any setting where there may be cause for cops to need to do their jobs.

Even in a SHTF situation, can you trust cops not to turn into total monsters? I say yes, we aren’t truly living under any kind of action movie evil regime, and the cops don’t wear mirrored visor helmets around at all times killing at will for nothing more than a lark. That being said, everyone will be scared, tired, exhausted and stressed out of their gourds. People under severe stress can behave erratically and make more mistakes. Cops are still just people. Remember that.

Protect and Serve. Most of the Time…

The other major question preppers ponder about our boys and girls in blue during and after a crisis is whether or not they will have the numbers and manpower to truly keep the peace during a major crisis. On that front, the answer is overwhelmingly no, they will not.

If we look to examples of truly catastrophic natural disasters or major outbreaks of civil unrest, we can see plenty of occasions where the poor cops just did not have the means to keep order, and were in essence running containments and damage mitigation.

Consider the LA Riots in 1992 or the lengthy aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Both events featured open criminality going completely unopposed by police much of the time, and rampant lawlessness and looting to boot. Again, I am not knocking the cops. There are only ever enough cops in a metro area to more or less keep a lid on simmering, latent criminality. In the event that a major societal disruption or agitating event should occur cause a mass outbreak of violence, crime, etc. the police always wind up outnumbered.

Considering the strategic priorities they must contend with (containment, protection of critical infrastructure, mobility and safety considerations) it is sadly understandable that their limited resources cannot be applied everywhere.

You should take this as an admonishment to be completely capable on your own. I use the expression “be your own first responder” as you should never count on anyone showing up to save you or yours at any time much less during or after a catastrophe that leaves your life and society in ruins. Counting on cops that may be hours away while you have a problem that needs solving in seconds is a recipe for disaster.

You must be sufficient in armed and empty hand self-defense in case you need to fight to protect what’s yours. You should likewise be training in first-aid and basic trauma skills so you can fix any wounds or injuries you or a loved one receives. Do not outsource a positive outcome to anyone! Assume no one is coming and it will up to you.

Bottom Line Up Front

Can you trust the police in a SHTF scenario? Yes, generally, in as much as you can trust anyone who has been meticulously screened and background-checked all the way back to grade school for moral character and civic virtue. Police are supposed to be our trusted servants because they are so vetted for integrity and a lack of moral turpitude. I do not think for a second that even a significant portion of them will use the event as an excuse to abuse their positions. Of course there are bad cops in any department, but there always have been.

Can you trust that they will have your best interest in mind? No, or at best not necessarily. An article covering all the ways you and an honest cop may not see eye-to-eye in a post-SHTF situation would be lengthy indeed.  They may have standing orders to that make sense as far as safety and order are concerned, but that does not mean they will be orders compatible with your goals and objectives.

Can you trust that cops will have a handle on all the malcontents and criminals running around looking to prey on the bewildered and weak after a major event? Definite no. There will too much that has gone wrong, too many bad guys to corral and too much chaos to even spare a hope that the cops will keep all the streets clean and safe. Not necessarily their fault, and God knows they sure try, but those are the realities of the situation.

Author’s Soapbox

This entire discussion naturally revolves around SHTF level events and how cops will interact with you during and after them. But even so I’d like to take the time to strongly recommend you start divorcing of yourself that you can count on the police right now.

Once more, this is no slander. Most cops are good folks doing a genuinely difficult job for the right reasons, but the fact remains they are not in your pocket when you need them. Any old-hand beat cop will relate to you a common and (most times) good natured epithet leveled at cops: that being “armed historian.”

Think about it: they show up after a crime has been committed, wear a gun on their hip, and then make a written report. It is pithy, but there lies a grain of truth in it- most cops do not stop a crime in progress. If anyone is going to stop the bad guy, hell, even influence the outcome, it is going to be you and you alone unless you are supremely lucky and a cop either sees the crime in progress or is right around the corner when he gets the call.

You need to start making that mental transition to total self-sufficiency now so you are not completely overtaken by the enormity of the situation when things go totally sideways.


While police may be our friends and protectors in kinder, normal times, their effectiveness as peacekeepers will degrade in proportion to the severity and scale of an event. This means you should not and will not be able to count on them to keep you safe. Furthermore, police and other LE agents may be saddled with missions and objectives that are at odds with your own needs and goals. You should make it a point not to run afoul of the law, even after a major disaster, but you should also have a plan to steer clear of any potentially negative interactions with police.

Charles Yor

About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.
View all posts by Charles Yor →

5 thoughts on “Should You Trust or Count on the Police Post SHTF?

  1. I Trust the police to do the best they can, with what they have VS the situation presented to them

    To protect me personally and have my best interests in mind no. That’s my responsibility.

  2. I doubt the police will continue as an organized force very long beyond SHTF time. Most have families of their own and will vacate police duty to care for their own families. The remaining officers will be tied up trying to contend with the wide spread lawlessness of desperate people trying to get food and possibly shelter, water, etc. Survival will be the primary concern of all.

    1. The police would be so outnumbered that they couldn’t possibly maintain control for long in anything bigger than a small town in a rural area. I’m in NJ, soon to be a sanctuary state. Gun control getting worse here all the time. We already have a multitude of gang bangers and other criminals. My small city could be controlled for a few days as long as we still have some arms. Other nearby cities, big ooooops. And then the problems will drift to here.

  3. The town I live in has about 12,000 population. Local law enforcers have the attitude “I have a gun & badge” do what I say or you will be in jail. Donate to the policemans ball….write letters to the local paper calling them heroes etc. you will be left alone….don’t…minor traffic stops are the norm. It will be worse when SHTF….remember the gun & badge thing? I for one will not be counting on them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *